Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, turkologist, professor Ruben Safrastyan in an interview with ArmInfo discusses the foreign and domestic policies of Erdogan's Turkey. He shares his vision of the reasons for the perception of modern Turkey by the West, Russia and Iran, and its role in the Middle East. He also talks about Turkey's opportunities in the South Caucasus, assesses Armenia's ability to withstand the centuries-old threats from its western neighbor. He speaks about the role of Russia in these processes in the light of another aggravation of relations with the Western world.
Mr.Safrastyan, what for you, above all, is typical and with whom the external and internal policies of Erdogan's Turkey of recent years are associated?
Tracing the policy led by Erdogan in modern Turkey, I have an inevitable association with the policy of Kemalist Turkey after its defeat in World War I, after the Mudros truce. Both under Kemal and under Erdogan, Turkey conducts a fairly brazen, aggressive policy, which, like at the beginning of the last century, goes to her hands. In other words, Erdogan, like Ataturk in his time, manages to use advantageous geographical position, geopolitical advantages of Turkey for carrying out such an aggressive foreign policy. The internal political situation in Turkey today also contains parallels with Turkey from the times of Kemal, who then very quickly managed to establish full power over the country. The same process takes place in Turkey today, when Erdogan actually becomes the sole ruler of this country. And whether we like it or not, gradually, in its importance, Erdogan is approaching Ataturk. And as far as I understand, Erdogan aspires to create his "own" Turkey quite consciously, he aspires to become the second Ataturk of modern, new Turkey.
You noted that today Turkey is getting away with a lot. What, besides the geographical situation, gives Erdogan such geopolitical impunity?
Turkey today actually occupied significant territories in the north of Syria, which did not get any serious international condemnation of superpowers. Moreover, Turkey, taking advantage of its involvement in the Syrian processes along with Russia and Iran, received the de facto consent of the Russians for the aggression and occupation of Afrina. Today, the occupation of part of Syria is the main achievement of Erdogan, allowing him to announce plans to seize and create a so-called dead zone on the entire length of the Turkish-Syrian border. This refers to a territory inhabited mainly by Kurds, a length of hundreds of kilometers. In the depth of Syria, this zone will go off by 30-40 kilometers. Thus, we are talking about the intention of Turkey to carry out ethnic cleansing in the given territory. And we see that thanks to the operations of the "Shield of the Euphrates" and the "Olive Branch" these plans are gradually being implemented. Ankara at the highest level openly declares that it is not going to stop at this and the next direction of expansion will be the Kurdish settlement, which was repulsed by the Americans from IGIL, which is of strategic importance, the Syrian city of Manbij. A similar ultimatum was put forward by the Turks regarding the Sinjar inhabited by Kurds on the Iraqi-Turkish border. And if the Iraqi authorities do not remove PKK representatives from Sinjar, the Turks threaten to do it themselves.
We see that the strengthening of Turkey, which you are talking about, takes place primarily due to the weakening of the position of the Kurds, the Kurdish factor. What changes in world and regional politics allow Ankara today to weaken traditional weapons of the United States to contain Turkey's ambitions? After all, it is clear that all these Turkish shields and branches were conducted in agreement with the United States and Russia.
Quite right. From the US point of view, this is a very favorable geographical position of Turkey in the Middle East, its considerable economic potential, large Armed Forces, membership in NATO. All this makes Washington turn a blind eye to the behavior of a strategic ally, even criticizing both Turkish politics in general, and Erdogan in particular. And the place and function of Turkey in the American strategy in the Middle East forces the Americans to put up with the behavior of Erdogan.
Even with the agreements of a NATO member country with Russia and Iran?
Even with them. At the same time, all these agreements do not prevent Turkey from remaining a military-political ally of the United States and a member of NATO. And to refuse all this Ankara, of course, is not going to. Turkey is going to realize its interests in other areas, however, only in harmonization with the interests of the US and its allies in the Alliance. This, among other things, is evidenced by repeated statements by Ankara that the border between NATO and Syria runs on the Turkish-Syrian border. Therefore, Turkey plays dangerous games, but the verge of permitting, however, does not pass. In general, Turkish politics is characterized by a sharp change of vectors. At one time, Erdogan was a great friend of Assad, and personally, however, then overnight moved to the side of IGIL. Only a few years later, the same Erdogan began to fight with IGIL in cooperation with Russia and Iran. The interest of Russia and Iran to Turkey is conditioned by its real capabilities, the ability to influence the situation in Syria. Moreover, not only through the occupation of Syrian territory, but also through influence on, warring in Syria, certain Islamist extremist groups. Analyzing the interest of Russia, it should be noted the strategic nature of trade and economic relations with Turkey in recent years. The implementation of multi-billion projects "Turkish flow", the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the S-400 system transaction are evidence of the relations of the two countries at the strategic level. And, even though Turkey and Russia remain geopolitical rivals in the Middle East and the South Caucasus, one can not ignore this level. The geopolitical interest of Iran on the one hand is the preservation of the Assad government and the territorial integrity of Syria, with the aim of geopolitical breakthrough to the Mediterranean. To this end, a corridor is being created in Syria, under the influence of pro-Iranian groups. And for the implementation of this plan, neutralization of Turkey is a necessity for Iran.
And can Turkey be neutralized today exclusively through cooperation?
Undoubtedly. There are no other possibilities, at least, today.
Assess the strengthening of Erdogan's Turkey in terms of its centuries-old threat to Armenia's security. Is Russia's presence in Armenia still a real and sole guarantee of neutralization of a possible, yet another Turkish expansion into Armenia?
To answer this question as a historian, I need to make a short digression into history. In December 1914, when Turkey entered the First World War, the Turks launched a broad offensive in the Transcaucasus to reach the coast of the Caspian Sea, to the Volga, and to establish links with the Caucasian Tatars and other Turkic-speaking peoples. However, having suffered defeat under the Sarikamysh, the Turks had to retreat. In May-June 1918, Turkey again launched an offensive on the Caucasus in three directions: to Armenia, Batumi and Baku. The attack on Armenia was stopped by battles near Sardarapat, Bash-Aparan, Karakilis. The offensive on Batumi was stopped by the German allies. Baku succeeded in taking Turks. In 1920, the Turks again began a war against Armenia. In 1941-42 years. The Turks once again accumulated huge military forces on the border with Armenia and Georgia, however, they were stopped by the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad. Thus, we see that for Armenia, Armenia and Transcaucasia have always been and remain an important geopolitical goal. After 1991 when the USSR countries gained independence, the Turks, as far as I understand, changed their geopolitical strategy. It is important for them that Transcaucasia remain a neutral zone, a kind of buffer between Russia and Turkey, which will gradually pass under their influence.
How it is being done in Georgia ...
Quite right. In the case of Azerbaijan, everything is clear, so Armenia remains. By the way, Armenia was a wedge, dividing the Turkic world back in the 20s of the last century and for Mustafa Kemal. This role is played by Armenia today, of course in other realities and somewhat different perception. Accordingly, threats to Armenia's security from Turkey have not gone away, if there is a role, that is, threats.
But does Russia alone hold back this threat today or are there other factors?
Over time, geopolitics and geostrategy, on the whole, change little, so try again to look for the answer in history. In 1921, Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevik Russia - the two countries that have troops in our region - came to an agreement on the issue of Armenia. And all our hopes for the West were not justified, since the Europeans then withdrew troops from our region and could not influence the situation. Today, we again see attempts by Turkey to strengthen and Russia's attempts to maintain its influence in the Caucasus. And in the event of Armenia's refusal from a military-political alliance with Russia, in the absence of Western military forces in our region, the United States and Europe will not specifically prevent Turkish appetites against Armenia. Especially in light of today's importance of Turkey in the eyes of, first of all, the United States. Therefore, we have no special alternative to Russia in the geopolitical, geostrategic respect in the foreseeable future.
Are there any guarantees that Turkey and Russia will not again come to an agreement on the issue of Armenia, as it was in 1921 ...
The question is quite reasonable. And I myself put it in front of me very often, against the backdrop of the example of a Kemalist-Bolshevik collusion against Armenia. I think that, given the current realities, attempts to intensify Russia's policy in the Middle East, that Russia has already become bogged down in Syria, given the growing confrontation between Russia and the West, which affects the mindset of the Russian leadership, today the situation is completely different. In the 20 years of the last century, Kemalist Turkey was viewed by the Bolshevik leadership as an ally against the West. She was outside the West. Hence the interest. Today's Turkey is not going to refuse to think of being part of the West, at least NATO, at least. Therefore, in my opinion, today's alignment of forces in our region does not leave us any alternative. The conspiracy between Russia and Turkey can become a reality only if Moscow completely abandons the South Caucasus. Armenia is Russia's last geopolitical stronghold in the South Caucasus. Moreover, it is Armenia that largely ensures Russia's influence in the Middle East. Therefore, I do not think that it is necessary to expect Russia to abandon the South Caucasus, especially in the context of intensifying confrontation with the West.
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